The UK Government’s Illegal Migration Bill (the Bill) is one step closer to becoming law, after it passed a third reading in the country’s lower house of parliament. The Bill will likely increase the prevalence of slavery in the UK, and thus the risk of doing business in the UK. The impact will be more acute in certain industries.

The Bill will remove the current temporary protection granted to suspected victims of modern slavery who are believed to have entered the country illegally. Critics, such as former Prime Minister Theresa May, argue that the Bill “will, at best, make [victims of slavery] feel less secure, and therefore less able or willing to give the evidence needed, and at worst will drive them back into the arms of the traffickers and slave drivers… this bill will leave more people… in slavery in the UK.”[i]

The UK is currently ranked in the lower quartile of Rights DD’s modern slavery risk index. Indicators, such as the country’s National Referral Mechanism, suggest however that the prevalence of slavery is steadily increasing. If enacted, we believe the Bill will further drive this trend.

Number of quarterly referrals to the UK’s Modern Slavery National Referral Mechanism, 2014-2022.[ii]

What the Bill means for companies

Modern slavery presents an ethical, legal, reputational and operational risk to businesses. An increase in the overall prevalence of slavery in a country will increase the risk to companies doing business in that country. Companies will need to increase the risk mitigation they put in place.

In the UK context, we anticipate that any increase in victims will be particularly pronounced in industries that rely on a large numbers of lower skilled foreign workers, including agriculture and the wider food sector, cleaning and construction.

What can companies do?

Companies that consider the Bill to run contrary to their values and/ or agree that it is likely to increase their risk exposure can communicate these facts to relevant local Members of Parliament.

Companies already operating in the UK should monitor the progress of the Bill and adjust their risk mitigations measures should it pass into law.

Human rights risk should be a factor in any investment decision. Companies considering investing in the UK, in particular into high risk industries, should take the Bill into consideration when allocating capital.

[i] The Guardian

[ii] National Referral Mechanism